Discovering the Ottawa Senators: A Hockey Love Story

Added to television, comics and books, there’s recently a new love that’s come into my life.

And, surprising myself most of all, this love is hockey.

Well, if we’re being technical, I actually fell in love with the Ottawa Senators. It was January 2012, and I was sitting on a couch with my boyfriend, Marc-André, watching the Montreal Canadiens face-off against the Senators.

Marc-André is the biggest sports fan I know. I remember being really confused when I met him and uncovered that he loved and breathed sports; where was his foam finger, jersey and obnoxious attitude? (How short-sighted I was.)

I asked him what it was about sports that called to him. He replied by asking me to watch a baseball game with him. While he was explaining to me the intricacies of a sport I’d only just glanced at and yawned “booooring”, something changed. The tone in which he asked me to take in the silence on the field, and the soft “cluck” the bat made when it connected with the bat, reminded me of the one I used to describe my favorite television shows.

Then the next day, in a stroke of lucky coincidence, I read this article. And suddenly, I got it. The feeling of rooting for *your* team; of preferring certain players to others; of watching the style of their game evolve right in front of your eyes. I got it, and I wanted it.

These thoughts were swirling in my brain when I watched that match between the Habs and the Sens. Then I saw him: #65, Erik Karlsson.

Watch here, between 0:54 and 1:02. He did a similar play the first time I watched him; a defenseman, protecting his goalie, then picking the puck from the opposing team and rushing to the net in less than 10 seconds. I was mesmerized by his speed, agility and defensive abilities.

From that moment on, I was hooked, and started doing what I always do when a new obsession comes along: took it to the Internets.

I found Silver Seven Sens, and everything changed. Here, people were having passionate, informative debates on, yes, last night’s game, but also the players and their hopes and dreams for this team that they loved. Immersing myself in their words just made me more excited to check out the next game, and then the next…

And here we are; I wouldn’t say that I’m a hockey expert, by any means, but I know and love my Pesky Sens with a fiery passion. I never in my entire life thought I would be a sports fan; for 22 years I recoiled at the thought of phys. ed., and I used to mock my entourage for their partisanship of the Habs. But this love is now part of me, and interestingly, a good friend of mine made parallels between it and my love for television:

“You cheering at a hockey game still boggles my mind. But, in the end, it makes sense. In all your geekdom, it’s always been about characters and people for you. Like, with Buffy you’re into Willow and Glory and all the nuances they bring to the screen. And, oddly, team sport is no different. They all play for a team goal, but each player has their own personality that they bring to the game. Sure, some are cliche and archetypal, but that’s really no different than literature. So, when you start hoping your new favorite player doesn’t get injured — Alfie? — it’s no different than hoping Amber Benson (I forget the character’s name) ain’t dead.”

And he’s right; it is always about the people. I look forward to moments between Alfie and Karlsson like I do for those between Kenzi and Bo (well used to, before Karlsson’s injury). I can’t wait to read Amelia’s thoughtful pieces like I can’t wait for Carrie Raisler’s The Vampire Diaries reviews.

hockey

With Marc-André’s help, I’ve come to realise that “loving things” isn’t an “either/or” scenario. I may identify as a TV/comic book geek, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t also be a sports fan. It’s such a benign concept, one I thought I’d internalized ages ago, but for some reason, when it came to “sports” and “jocks”, the identities weren’t fluid; they were fixed.

This doesn’t mean that the sports world is perfect; on the contrary, as an activist I recognize that, mostly, the NHL is a money racket headed by rich, white, privileged men who want to exploit us for our love of the game. But when I’m sitting in the stands and my heart’s racing, what I feel the most is kinship; for the people surrounding me physically, for my virtual fan-community and for the boys on the ice.

So yes. I love comic books, novels, TV shows, cooking, feminism, social justice…

And I love the Senators.

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About Gabby Ross

I write about what I live. This includes previous jobs, boring details, passions and television. Lots and lots of TV. I enjoy live-tweeting episodes of sci-fi/fantasy series (and the occasional football show) @GloryisBen.

12 comments

  1. Martin Léger

    Wooh! I hate it when people think you can’t love sports and be a geek! People are always surprised when I tell them I play Hockey. I used to play a lot of sports (I’m awful at most but so what). Now not so much, mostly because I don’t have the time and my old buddies don’t have the time too.

    I’ve been a Sens fan since forever. Went to see the Senators, back in 2006 or 2007 maybe? I forget. Anyways, while the camera was panning the crowd it stopped on me and I was shown on one of those giants screens. Probably because I was wearing a foam hat and a foam finger. I was actually on national TV for a split second. Bells and whistles went blowing and the big screen called me ”FAN OF THE GAME!”. The prize was bragging rights and a HD color-printer.

  2. OMG, you’re “GloryisBen”? So nice to meet you! *shakes hand* I’m a recent converted Sens fan too–whenever I would glance at a game last season, Karlsson would do something insane, and I knew I had to start paying attention. You use a great parallel, one that I can relate to, because I’m a huge bibliophile and I agree with the idea of falling in love with “characters”. The team becomes a sort of family of characters, friends who you’ll never know IRL but are near to your heart all the same–you used the word “kinship”, and that’s exactly it. It’s a growth that you become a part of.

    Thanks so much for this great piece! It really resonated with me. Looking forward to speaking with you more on S7S. :)

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! I think the fact that injuries have plagued the Senators this year only helped in creating the sense of community you describe around the team. I was all ready to give up cheering, but seeing all these young players band together and fight tooth and nail has been really inspiring.

      See you on the S7S forums :)

  3. As much of an impact Erik Karlsson has on the ice for the Senators, I think he’ll be even more impactful off the ice in terms of turning people like yourself into Sens fans. Watching a player like him do the kind of things only he can do is really an incredible thing to witness. If I wasn’t already a fan, I’d definitely have become one when I started watching Erik Karlsson.

    Thanks for sharing your story, it’s great to read the account of another Sens fan.

    • Thank you, Peter! Karlsson really is a marvel to watch, and I hope his achilles tendon completely heals up.

      As much as he is a big part of why I love this team, S7S is a bigger one, I think. Your words, and the other writer’s, have allowed me to understand the dynamics of the game, the particularities of the players and the sense of belonging one feels when attached to a team better than watching the games alone could ever have done. So, thanks again. :)

  4. Connor

    Not sure I agree with “the NHL is a money racket headed by rich, white, privileged men who want to exploit us for our love of the game” — but great article.

    I think many don’t get into sports because of the stereotypes surrounding it compounded with the intricacies of the rules and tactics. Not knowing what offsides or freezing the puck are would make a hockey game incredibly confusing.

    Part of the appeal is having a group with whom you can associate (Sens, or Hawks in my case) and bask in glory. When they win, you feel like you win a bit. Also, you are definitely right about feeling some sort of connection to a player. Each has their own attributes to the point where they sort of become their own “character” in your mind, just like a television character – and it’s cool to see them succeed. Sometimes you might follow a rookie through the season, and when he starts doing well you feel happy for him (vicariously, perhaps).

    I’d like to say that I can’t get into any other sports as much as hockey. It’s special in how complex it is. It’s finesse, power, speed, stamina, toughness, luck, pain, intensity, all in one.

    • You bring up a really interesting point about the rules and tactics of the game; one I hadn’t considered when I wrote the article. It definitely was a barrier at first, but I think reading the game recaps the next day helped vulgarize the dynamics. It also helps that I can just shout “what’s an offside, again?” to my boyfriend while watching the game.

      Speaking of rookies, I got so attached to them this season that the trade deadline scares me a little bit. I was sad to see Daugavins go, and I’m sure the heartbreak isn’t over.

      Thank you for your very eloquent comment!

  5. Everen

    I find it fascinating how ladies in particular get drawn in to the game. Traditionally, of course, hockey fandom has always been – and remains to be – dominated by males. But more and more I hear of great recounts how the finer gender are getting involved and it almost always involves a “story”. And I think it’s great for the game, and even better for the community of fans. This year’s Senators have so many great “stories”. The fascinating and mesmerizing rise of Karlsson, the perseverance exhibited by the injury-plagued club, the determination and agelessness of Alfie. There’s so much to love.

    A few years ago, my girlfriend at the time (now fiancee) had just moved to Canada from the US. Hockey, to her, was a weird fascination that I had, and she had no concept of fandom or why it meant so much to me. She had watched a few games out of the corner of her eye while I had it on the TV and was always laughing at me when I’d get upset at a loss or ecstatic with a big win. Eventually she began to ask questions, about why such-and-such was offside, what was “icing” and why an interference penalty was called (but then again, who does nowadays?). What really caught her attention was some new names on the team. We called up Colin Greening, Erik Condra, J O’B, and Zack Smith, and she suddenly had a fascination with learning about them, their backgrounds, where they came from, their junior clubs, everything. This was her “story”. Before I knew it, she was watching games at home while I was out of town, texting me scoring updates and positively giddy when a new Binghamton callup happened, or when a draft pick played his NHL debut, or when we made a trade (no matter how impactful). And as the “veteran” fan of the couple, my fandom’s been increased tenfold by having a partner who shares my enthusiasm.

    And just as she has chosen the best possible team to support, you’ve made a great decision to be a Sens fan! I hope it brings you as much excitement as it has brought to us! Cheers!

    • Thank you for sharing that amazing origin story. Though my partner is a Habs fan, we do bond over our love of the game, and sharing highlights and goals is a favorite pass time. Therefore, I really do see where you’re coming from when you say that your “fandom’s been increased tenfold by having a partner who shares my enthusiasm”.

      I love your parallel with stories, too. It ties in nicely with the TV character/players parallel.

      See you on S7S! You’re now in my signature, by the way. ;)

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